Should Christians Read Ambassador Report?
By Eric V. Snow
Since I’m someone who had actual dealings with Ambassador Report and the late John Trechak (I even got mentioned in it once or twice by name due to letters I wrote to him), not to mention anti-cultists in general, my perspective on SN’s (tepid) endorsement of reading Ambassador Report is worth some consideration. It’s important to realize that even though it’s clear the WCG had many problems, including sexual sins among the leadership (GTA in particular) and tithes that weren’t especially well spent, it still did the largest evangelistic work of any non-Trinitarian Sabbatarian group since the first century A.D. The sins of its leadership don’t refute theological truth as a matter of epistemology (i.e., how we know that we know). Hence, any readers who go out and read Ambassador Report (AR) for the first time should realize that their personal salvation isn’t going to be lost or gained based upon the sins of HWA, GTA, or this or that elder, pastor, or evangelist. HWA’s and GTA’s interpretations of Scripture were fundamentally correct (on major issues, not some “picky points” or minor teachings).
After I first started receiving the WCG’s literature in 1982, as a 16-year-old high school student who had very little previous religious training (the Unitarian-Universalist church I had had some contact with as a kid was definitely a “social club” and a joke of a “church”), I became soon converted to the truth of the Sabbath and the denial of eternal torment in hell. As I attended the first year of college (Jackson Community College), I happened to see a Christianity Today magazine in the college library which had a cover article on the SDA church and Ellen White. Since at that time I had not attended the SDA church, I found it all very interesting. But even MORE interesting was a certain one-page article towards its back on the WCG. It discussed Raymond McNair’s (messy) divorce, and then mentioned Mr. Armstrong getting divorced from his SECOND wife. Since I didn’t even know he even had a second wife, I decided to engage in a research project that most “prospective members” of the WCG had never engaged in: I decided to look up all the magazine articles I could find on the WCG using the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature. Needless to say, I found a very unpleasant mess. I read about the whole receivership/lawsuit mess, GTA’s sexual sins and eventual permanent exile, the D & R rule’s disastrous consequences, the deadly cost of the ban on medical care, various revolts and schisms, the failed 1972/75 predictions, misspent tithes, oppressed members, overkills on corporal punishment of children, etc. The magazine articles came mostly either from a skeptical, secular, liberal perspective or the conservative, evangelistic “anti-cult” perspective. Between the two, the coverage was almost completely negative. But, I hesitated very little: After attending the SDA church as a mere stopgap for nine months in 1985-86 because I knew full well my mother wasn’t going to lend me the family car to drive to services in Ann Arbor or Lansing, Michigan (approximately a 35 mile drive either way from Jackson, MI, where I lived), I started attending the WCG the December of 1986 after I moved to East Lansing in order to attend MSU. I was baptized in the August of 1987. For even then, I was exclusively driven by doctrinal considerations, and I saw the SDA church as no proper substitute, since they were Trinitarians and they didn’t observe the Holy Days. Truth matters more than the hypocrisy within the leadership.
When I would look at anti-cultist research on the WCG in local Christian bookstores, I could readily see the appalling errors in it. They were constantly stating the doctrines wrong, such as accusing HWA of being (for example) an Arian, a polytheist, a believer in salvation by works, etc. So, the ambitious soul that I was, I decided to systematically scan over the WCG literature that I did have, making notations on it, and bought books and copied articles from magazines by anti-cultists. I then wrote what became (as amateurish as some parts were) a source book on WCG theology, featuring long direct quotes from WCG booklets, books, and magazines in order to rebut one or more chosen statements taken from this or that anticultist (such as Dave Hunt, Walter Martin, Josh McDowell and Don Stewart, Bob Larson, Paul Benware, and Roger Chambers).. I showed these people to be in error time and time again when compared to what HWA and other church writers had in print in the 1980's. I did the basic writing of what became its first edition during Christmas break (hey, call it what it is!) of the sophomore year at college (1985-86). I did read and receive some copies of Ambassador Report when doing my anti-cult research and refutations as a WCG member, although I never officially subscribed until 1995, when the breakup of the WCG over the “New Covenant” theology began. (I HAD to have an independent news source then, since I didn’t know that something like “InTransition” or “The Journal” would eventually exist). But as I told Mr. Trechak, I found what I wrote to be largely irrelevant to most of what I wrote defending the WCG, because he focused on the personal sins and failings of the leadership, while what I defended (except for one chapter of what ultimately became 152 pages) concerned the anticultists’ doctrinal misconceptions of the WCG’s teachings. A couple years later or so (1992), he asked me if I was still an apologist for the WCG and whether I thought it was “legit,” to which I said “yes” to both. I was well aware that his publication had the opposite bias from the Worldwide News, which was to selectively publish the most embarrassing facts possible on the church. For example, what Stanley Rader said in defense of the WCG in Against the Gates of Hell concerning the receivership I found quite valuable in writing up my defense of the WCG. For example, would AR ever mention these facts concerning the receivership? 1. ArthurAndersen Co. had audited the books in 1978, and found no problems. 2. The IRS had gone through the church’s books no less than eight times in previous years, and found no problems. 3. The receivership hired a major outside accounting firm, Peat, Marwick & Mitchell, which spent one and a half months going over the WCG’s records, and found nothing! And that despite the presumption of guilt! I would suggest the truth (interpretation of the facts) on such issues will be between AR and the official WCG line, since the selective quotation of facts doesn’t prove as much as we may like to think (just like selective Bible quotation!)
It proved to be somewhat entertaining effort dealing with these anticultist people by correspondence. I even sank most of my spare second tithe one Feast (1991, Wisconsin Dells) by copying and firing off dozens of copies of a short 14-page version to various anticult research organizations listed in a Directory one of the largest organizations published. I twice personally met Josh McDowell during evangelistic meetings (about five years apart) he had in Michigan to give him information on the WCG since he wrote a book (“Understanding the Cults”) with a critical chapter on the WCG. I corresponded extensively with a man in Ireland who was doing a dissertation on the WCG named Neil O’Connor. (He once said that I was so good at it that I should be made head of the WCG’s PR Dept.!) I even got one woman with who ran a small anticult group part-time to withdraw a tape critiquing the WCG that was absurdly full of errors.
Needless to say, this all was unauthorized by Pasadena (except for some of the correspondence with O’Connor towards the end). Someone at HQ eventually caught wind of my operations, and requested of the local pastor a copy of what I had written (the 152-page version) that another local member had given to him that I had unwisely had given to him. (This pastor then proceeded to sit on it, saying nothing about it to me, for six months until turning that copy over to Pasadena when they found out such a thing existed from the anticultists and started inquiring. Later on, I got together with this pastor and his assistant, and got formal permission to write up a defense of the WCG, pending HQ’s approval down the road, which I acknowledged would have the power to kill it if desired). So how could a good hierarchalist like myself justify doing this, since I really did believe in obeying what ministers told me to do? I had always operated by the principle that what isn’t formally prohibited is allowed. Since nobody specifically told me I couldn’t write and do such things, for years I chose to engage in unauthorized apologetics in defense of the WCG. And this was despite I was well-aware of the many of the sins that HWA and GTA had committed (or been accused of). Perhaps part of the reason why I didn’t find such problems so off-putting was because I had been quite badly treated by my peers as a kid in school (the archetypal wimp who’s good in studies but awful in sports), and I found far more social acceptance than I ever had before among people in the church I dealt with locally. The church had proven itself to be far better than the world, in my social experience. So far as I saw (and I didn’t see everything even locally by any means, since I had no role in leadership or speaking), even with the first minister who was known to be especially strict (although he mellowed even during the time I knew him), people got along quite well generally locally.
So what’s the point of this (by now) rather meandering letter? If I can read lots of this anticult literature, including even some of AR, and all these charges about personal corruption, sexual sin, failed predictions, etc. and still believe the WCG was the truest (cute modifier, eh?) church of God, I would encourage those brave souls who venture to read AR as the result of SN’s endorsement to still believe that HWA’s teachings were the truth (mostly) despite his sins and those by others close to him. For again I challenge the independents at SN: Can you name another church organization that did more to spread a non-Trinitarian Sabbatarianism around the world than the WCG under HWA? God decided to use some especially defective human instruments (HWA and GTA) to spread His truth (basic correct interpretations of Scripture on major doctrines in one package, not bits and pieces of the truth scattered about in various denominations) that the traditional Christian world generally didn’t know or practice. When I asked one man, a CGI pastor who knows the anti-WCG literature even better than I do, why God used HWA, his response was that was God’s way to show his all consuming grace. If God could use HWA despite having personal failings far worse than (say) Billy Graham’s, something like Solomon’s or Samson’s sins, why should we doubt our salvation or the basic truths we learned in the WCG in the past? Are we to be more demanding than God is of His own servants? As a matter of philosophical logic, it’s a false ad hominem argument to say that because so-and-so has sinned, therefore, his interpretations of Scripture are false. God will deal with HWA in due course. Meanwhile, let’s rejoice in knowing God’s truth through whatever servants God chose to use in calling us.
P.S. Hey, I admit this is a very long letter, but I can assure you it will interest others. (I hope my self-conceit isn’t showing too much!)